Thinking about water

Our 700 liter water tank

Recently, Rory was asked to write something for the VOICA newsletter. After giving it some thought, she strayed from more conventional topics and decided to explain how our perspective on water has changed. In the States, water is basically a given, something we took for granted. If you live outside of a municipal water system, then you may have to think about wells and septic systems. If there is a drought, there may be rationing. But still, if all of the plumbing is in working order, the system functions as it should, without the need to attend to it.


After 10 minutes, the flow has diminished and the water is turning murky. At this point we decide to stop filling it, hoping for better results tomorrow.

Here it is different. Water is not automatically available when you turn on the tap. And that changes your perspective. Here are some excerpts from her piece:

 “…Every other day we attempt to fill our 700 liter orange tank with water pumped from a well.  [The tank means that water is available when the electricity is off.] Filling the tank is, of course, limited to those times when the electricity is working. It is also limited by the number of people taking water from the aquifer at the same time. There are times when the flow from the pump is intermittent or stops altogether!

We judge the results by how clear the water is in the mandi. This is looking better than normal here. It subsequently deteriorated.

“Through various trials, we have determined that water is best obtained between 9 am and about 12 noon.  We were successfully getting quite clear water for a number of weeks, but things have changed lately.  For mysterious reasons, the water can be very murky and filled with dirt, which we jokingly refer to as “pond water.” Over a period of a few hours some of the dirt will eventually settle to the bottom of the orange tank, but that still leaves something greenish yellow coming out of the taps. Having just scrubbed our bathroom mandi, it is rather discouraging to have to fill it with dirty water! We have concluded that using this version of water, with soap and shampoo, however unappealing, does still contribute to cleaner bodies and hair than would otherwise be the case.  This same water is also used, of course, for washing our clothes and dishes.  Again, there is added soap, so maybe things are clean? 

 “We have no option in any case, and are thankful we have water at all.  Some of our friends do not have a tank and live with daily water cutoffs. [note: Lukas and Christina said that they have water maybe 40% of the time.] This was the case for the VOICA house as well, until the very recent addition of the pump.  We thank Sr. Aurora for that…”

We use 2-3 bottles per week

“As for drinking water, this is one of the few bargains here. After paying one dollar, David carries the ubiquitous 19 litre water bottle back from one or the other of two different neighbors with some difficulty [note: ~35 lbs.], but with gratitude for the short distances.  He continues to wonder if there is a better system than flipping the opened bottle onto the dispenser, which never fails to fling water somewhere around the kitchen.”

 Our routines are not all that onerous, and we have gotten used to them. When we first arrived and stayed with the Sisters at Balide, water was carried in buckets from four or five outside spigots. All of their water – for cooking, for laundry, for bathing – came from water that was carried. We sometimes see people with carts full of plastic containers, filling them with water. The sobering fact is that most of the world lives this way.

 I came across the transcript of a recent Fresh Air interview that Terry Gross did with Charles Fishman who has written a book on the growing issue of water. It was fascinating. It certainly makes one think. We are numbered among the fortunate.  [posted by David]

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